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107,4 Fast foods and ethical consumer
value: a focus on McDonald’s and
Monika J.A. Schröder
School of Business and Enterprise, Queen Margaret University College,
Edinburgh, UK, and
Morven G. McEachern
School of Management, The University of Salford, Salford, UK

Purpose – Aims to investigate the effect of communicating corporate social responsibility (CSR)
initiatives to young consumers in the UK on their fast-food purchasing with reference to McDonald’s
and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
Design/methodology/approach – Focus groups were conducted to clarify themes and inform a
questionnaire on fast-food purchasing behaviours and motives. Attitude statements were subjected to
an exploratory factor analysis.
Findings – Most respondents (82 per cent) regularly purchased fast food from one of the companies;
purchases were mostly impulsive (57 per cent) or routine (26 per cent), suggesting relatively low-level
involvement in each case. While there was scepticism regarding the CSR activity being promoted,
expectations about socially responsible behaviour by the companies were nevertheless high. Four
factors were isolated, together explaining 52 per cent of the variance in fast-food purchasing
behaviour. They were brand value, nutritional value, ethical value and food quality.
Research limitations/implications – The research was conducted with students, and while these
represent a key-target market, any further research should target a more diverse public.
Practical implications – There are important implications for global fast-food companies in terms
of protecting and developing their brand value; they need to respond to the wider food-related debates
in society, in particular, those concerning healthy eating and food ethics. They also need to ensure that
their business practices are fully consistent with the values expressed in their CSR initiatives.
Originality/value – The special value of the paper lies in its joining together of current perspectives
on CSR and consumer value in the UK food industry as it explores both through the perceptions of
young consumers of fast food.
Keywords Fast foods, Business ethics, Consumer behaviour, United Kingdom
Paper type Research paper

Fast-food retailing in the UK

The UK fast-food market is worth an estimated £7.82 billion annually (Keynote, 2003),
amounting to an average spend of £20/month per adult (McDonald, 2003). Due to
busier consumer lifestyles and dual-working families with children, emphasis is
increasingly being placed on quick meal solutions (Atkins and Bowler, 2001). This has
resulted in a market growth of 19 per cent in fast food since 1998 (Keynote, 2003). UK
British Food Journal consumers tend to regard convenience and wholesomeness as polar opposites, rather
Vol. 107 No. 4, 2005
pp. 212-224 than a complementary type of food value (Jack et al., 1997, 1998). These researchers
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited found that convenience is likely to be associated with extensive food processing, as in
DOI 10.1108/00070700510589503 the example of manufactured snack foods; such snacks are perceived as convenient but
unhealthy, while unprocessed “fruit as a snack” are perceived as healthy but Fast foods:
inconvenient. Fast food meals based on burgers and fried chicken (e.g. MacDonald’s,
KFC) also tend to be perceived as convenient but unhealthy. There has been a
McDonald’s and
sustained increase in the demand for convenience foods and snacks over a number of KFC
years (Traill, 1994; Keynote, 2003). Moreover, a greater volume of fast food is
consumed in the UK than in any other country in Europe (Schlosser, 2001). Recently,
the notion that processed convenience foods are contributing to an obesity epidemic 213
has led to litigation proceedings against McDonald’s. At the same time, a number of
fast-food companies and food manufacturers have reviewed the fat and sugar contents
of their product ranges, and reconsidered the size of the portions they offer. New
“healthy options” (e.g. pasta salad, fruit bags, corn-on-the-cob) can now be purchased
from fast-food outlets alongside traditional burger and chicken meals. Another recent
innovative strategy by McDonald’s and KFC enables dietary information for each meal
to be accessed via nutritional calculator tools on each company’s web site (see www. and
From the beginnings of post-war nutrition policy in the UK, food manufacturers
have responded to nutritionists’ calls for healthier products to some degree. However,
they have also asserted there are no “good” or “bad” foods – only good or bad diets
(Richardson and Brady, 1997). Meanwhile, the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA)
current diet and nutrition strategy emphasises a key role for the food industry in
helping to improve the nutritional quality of dietary intakes (Scottish Food Advisory
Committee, 2002). For caterers, this means offering a greater choice of healthier dishes,
and for manufacturers and retailers, rebalancing food ingredients, in particular,
reducing the presence of fat, salt and sugar and increasing that of fruit, vegetables and
complex carbohydrates. Health branding initiatives, such as the Department of
Health’s “Five-a-Day” campaign promoting fruit and vegetable intake, have clearly
helped to raise the profile of nutrition targets (Department of Health, 2003; Parker,
2003). Food companies covet the logo but existing processed foods may not meet its
strict requirements (Laurance and Mitchell, 2003). Consequently, manufacturers and
retailers have begun to launch their own logos and claims (e.g. J. Sainsbury’s “Good for
You” range).
The global expansion of fast-food markets, which accompanied the saturation of the
US market (Schlosser, 2001), prepared the way for a rise in the number and power of
multi-national fast-food corporations. Because of this, greater attention is focussed on
the market and its contribution to the notions of the common good and favourable
public opinion (Breeze and Cairns, 2003). As the product ranges of most UK fast-food
outlets (e.g. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Wimpy) are mainly centred on meat, this
introduces a further issue associated with corporate social responsibility (CSR),
namely, animal welfare. Many organisations (e.g. People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA)) target global fast-food retailers to draw attention to welfare issues
surrounding animal production systems. Another socially relevant issue surrounding
fast-food retailing is the littering of public spaces (Department for Environment Food
and Rural Affairs, 2003). Powerful global companies provide an attractive focus for
socio-political complaints and campaigns.

CSR as an aspect of fast food quality

Consumer value plays a crucial role at the heart of all marketing activity as it refers to
things of value that have been created for a specific market (Holbrook, 1999). Consumer
BFJ value is a highly complex concept in that it integrates an array of possible product
107,4 quality attributes, process-related attributes and less tangible sources of value, in
particular, brand image (Schröder, 2003). For fast foods, product attributes may be
further broken down into nutritional, sensory and hygienic quality. The nature of food
production and processing is becoming more important to consumers (Baltas, 2001;
Bredahl et al., 1998), even if these aspects cannot be verified through the actual
214 consumption of the food (credence attributes). Ethical production in terms of animal
and human welfare, and environmental protection are key issues here (Harper and
Makatouni, 2002; Wier and Calverley, 2002; Grankvist et al., 2004). Holbrook’s (1999)
typology serves as a mapping tool for generic consumer value and is highly applicable
to the food context. For example, it highlights both functional consumer value (which
might be interpreted as food safety and nutritional make-up) and ethics. However,
corporate image is only partially built on tangible product and process attributes.
Equally important is the manner in which companies communicate with stakeholders
through their marketing strategies, including CSR initiatives. CSR may be defined as
an organization’s status and activities with respect to perceived societal obligations
(Brown and Dacin, 1997). Through the Business Excellence Model (British Quality
Foundation, 1998), the impact of an organization on society has been highlighted
alongside the need for employee and customer satisfaction. Clearly, the greater the
perceived power and influence of an organization the more likely it is to attract the
attentions of campaign groups. The activities of powerful organisations will be better
understood by the public and affect more consumers than those of smaller competitors.
When campaigners single out such organisations for scrutiny or even attack, they can
expect more media interest for the issues they want to publicise. It is therefore not
surprising that global players in the fast-food sector, such as McDonald’s, tend to find
themselves in the firing line of groups concerned with the various aspects of food
There are therefore at least two audiences for CSR initiatives, i.e. the customer for
the product in question and the wider public. CSR is not a modern concept, but its
nature and focus develops alongside changing social norms (Breeze and Cairns, 2003).
As retailers are encouraged to reflect the changing demands of the customer (Gilbert,
2003), the adoption and implementation of ethical trading principles is integral to an
organisation’s overall marketing strategy (Vinten, 1998; Omar, 1999). A major driver of
ethical trading practices within the retail marketplace is the growing phenomenon of
ethical consumerism (Brinkman and Brinkman, 2002; Hosmer, 2002), equating to a UK
market value of £6.8 billion in 2001 (Co-operative Bank, 2003). Information about a
firm’s ethical behaviour is thought to influence product sales and consumers’ overall
image of a company (Mohr et al., 2001). Branding is used to enhance the retailer’s
reputation (de Chernatony, 2001) and add value to consumer goods by supplying
meaning as well as communicating competence and standards to the consumer
(McCracken, 1993). However, when organisations formulate policies on social issues
they invite scrutiny, and to stand up to this, policies need to be thoroughly embedded
and translated into the operational processes. In any case, since external pressure
groups already target multi-national organisations (e.g. Greenpeace, WWF), it makes
good sense for ethical audits to be carried out internally as part of general quality
system audits. Some organizations may view CSR as relating only to reputation,
whereby it is then delegated to the public relations function; or CSR may be viewed as a
marketing opportunity, in which case it might be delegated to the marketing function Fast foods:
(Breeze and Cairns, 2003). Brand value is affected by positive, as well as negative,
perceptions. Therefore, branding oneself as a socially responsible organization not
McDonald’s and
only has cost implications in terms of investment in quality management but also in KFC
terms of consumer disappointment in view of raising false expectations. To avoid this,
Bacon (2004) appeals to organizations to focus on product value and market behaviour
in that ultimately “Customers don’t believe what you tell them. They believe what you 215
Recently, the traditional McDonald’s fare of burgers and fries has been added to,
with chicken breasts, salads, fruit, organic milk and free-range eggs for breakfast. In its
retail outlets, the company distributes a variety of leaflets, including one that promotes
daily consumption of five portions of fruit and vegetables. The CSR section of
McDonald’s web site commits the company to “doing the right thing for the local
communities”, focusing on community support for local schools and youth sports. The
web site also commits the company to environmental protection and focuses on
recycling, resource conservation and waste reduction strategies. Animal welfare,
protection of workers’ health and safety and rights are also highlighted (see Vignali
(2001) for details of McDonald’s community activities)). KFC also profess an
international commitment to animal welfare, but its community and charity initiatives
are relevant only to the USA.
McDonald’s and KFC have held a successful presence in UK retail centres for many
years, with both enjoying high levels of brand recognition. This market familiarity and
global success has placed both companies in the spotlight as the target for
campaigners on various issues related to CRS. While fast-food retailers are not alone in
feeling the pressure for multi-nationals to “clean up their act” (Sweeney, 2004), fast food
in common with any food, has the potential to impact directly and visibly on people’s
well-being (e.g. obesity).
As the restaurant sector has received far less academic attention than other
industries (Sault et al., 2004), this study explores the awareness and perceptions among
these companies’ key markets in the UK, namely young consumers, of CSR initiatives
by these high profile fast-food retailers. More generally, it considers whether
McDonald’s and KFC’s CSR initiatives are compatible with the general values of those
consumers whose purchasing behaviour they target and whether their socially
responsible “healthy options” are likely to play a role in the achievement of balanced
diets among young consumers.

The respondents in this study were undergraduate students from an English and a
Scottish university. Sherman et al. (1999) support the use of students as subjects
within consumer research and confirm its acceptance by stating that 86 per cent of
the articles published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin used students
as their human subjects. Krauss (1995) also defends the use of students in that they
are more homogenous as a group than non-students, thus resulting in less
“extraneous variation” (Peterson, 2001). As a key target market of the UK fast-food
sector is between 17-25 years, a convenience sample of students is justified for this
exploratory study.
BFJ To achieve the research aims, a mixed-method approach was adopted (i.e.
107,4 qualitative and quantitative). Bryman (2004) justifies the adoption of a mixed-method
to achieve an in-depth insight into consumer behaviour. Here, the qualitative stage
facilitated the development of a survey questionnaire. Qualitative research techniques
are widely accepted as an exploratory mechanism to gain information (Krueger, 1994;
Malhotra and Birks, 2000). Two focus groups (n ¼ 2 £ 12) were carried out to explore
216 the credibility of CSR initiatives and the type of “consumer value” (Holbrook, 1999)
derived from specific McDonald’s and KFC products. The focus groups were primarily
concerned with identifying a set of beliefs, in relation to these areas of behaviour. Ajzen
and Fishbein (1980) suggest that the first five to nine beliefs should elicit the most
“salient” beliefs and facilitate sufficient insight into why an individual holds a certain
attitude towards an object. Data analysis was interpretive and iterative, using pattern
coding and analysis to identify emergent themes (Huberman and Miles, 1994). The
themes identified from the focus groups were then used to construct a questionnaire
designed to elicit respondents’ information seeking behaviours in relation to fast-food
consumption, perceptions of fast-food retailers and related purchase behaviour.
The same locations were used in the quantitative study. A random sampling
technique was used to select respondents from a range of undergraduate business,
language and leisure degree programmes. The pre-test and pilot questionnaire was
distributed to 2 per cent of the final sample size, with 1 per cent equally distributed to
both English and Scottish locations. Respondents who participated in the pre-testing of
the questionnaire were not included in the final sample. This number was not
pre-determined, but continued until respondents did not require further clarification on
topics, questionnaire instructions or layout. The questionnaire incorporated a priming
section, which provided information about new menu ranges from McDonald’s and
KFC. It is also considered that both McDonald’s and KFC’s above-the-line advertising
campaigns throughout 2003 acted as a “natural” primer for students (Shrum et al.,
1998). The use of priming for this study helped to facilitate increased accessibility of
information present in students’ memories (Mandel and Johnson, 2002). The final
response rate of 40 per cent (n ¼ 100) resulted in a ratio of 52:48 between English and
Scottish respondents. Participation in the study was voluntary as students were
invited, over a one-week period, to complete a questionnaire at the end of core lectures.
These were self administered and collected in drop-off boxes. A prize draw for a
leading marketing textbook was offered to students from each university as an
The questionnaire was analysed using SPSS, Version 11.5, where descriptive,
cross-tabulation and factor analyses were conducted. Explanatory factor analysis was
used to investigate whether a large number of variables (i.e. attitude statements) could
represent a smaller number of dimensions (e.g. central attitudes). As the qualitative
results played a facilitation role to the quantitative stage, a series of salient belief
statements were developed from the themes arising from the focus groups and
measured via a five-point Likert scale. The value of providing respondents with only
five choice positions is that it tends to avoid responses converging on the middle
response (i.e. three). On the other hand, too many scale positions (e.g. seven-point
scales) tend to confuse respondents (Wright and Crimp, 2000).
Results Fast foods:
Focus groups McDonald’s and
A significant theme from the focus groups was one of scepticism about the motivations
underlying McDonald’s and KFC’s CSR initiatives, with respondents classifying them KFC
as no more than marketing strategies aimed at increasing company profits. A lengthy
debate took place about whether fast-food outlets promoted over-consumption (e.g.
super-size portions) and if they should be held responsible for individual customers’ 217
levels of consumption (e.g. obesity rates). Support for the latter was significant, as both
focus groups included individuals who had worked at McDonald’s where they had
been trained specifically to encourage sales of larger portions and/or meal packages.
However, the groups did not reach agreement as to whether this was normal or
unethical business practice. Participants also reinforced the familiar
convenience-healthfulness dichotomy, describing fast foods as convenient but
unhealthy. McDonald’s products were judged as enhancing the personal status of
child consumers, but not of adults. No similar observation was made in relation to KFC
products. Some students commented that there was a confusion of values signalled by
fast-food restaurants. In particular, the product range structure was confusing, thus
undermining the “fast” and uncomplicated value implied by the term “fast food”.
Furthermore, the pressure felt to consume in excess of what the customer really wanted
tended to weaken the implied straightforwardness of the fast-food experience.

Most respondents (82 per cent) regularly purchased fast food from one of the
companies; purchases were mostly impulsive (57 per cent) or routine (26 per cent). The
respondent profile to the questionnaire, matched the global target market for fast-food
companies, with 79 per cent aged between 17-25 years. The location split was more or
less equal with 52 per cent originating from the North West of England and 48 per cent
from Lothian and Fife regions in Scotland. In terms of respondent origin, 87 per cent
were from the UK, 9 per cent from other countries in Western Europe and 4 per cent
from other countries. The gender split was 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female. The
majority of students (44 per cent) lived at home with their parents, 24 per cent lived in
shared accommodation and 22 per cent lived in University Halls of Residences. Some
10 per cent of students owned their own home, 72 per cent were working part-time,
with 34 per cent working between 13-30 hours per-week. Of the respondents, 36 per
cent owned a car, thus potentially enabling over a third of respondents to use the
drive-thru option at fast-food outlets.
Before reading the priming information, awareness of both McDonald’s and KFC’s
new menu range was high, with 72 per cent and 63 per cent respectively. Scepticism
was again identified from respondents, as 53 per cent believed that fast-food companies
in general could not be trusted to tell the truth about their products. Subjects were
marginally more sceptical about McDonald’s (48 per cent) than KFC (41 per cent). In
spite of this, 80 per cent purchased fast food from McDonald’s and 55 per cent
purchased fast food from KFC. Only 18 per cent of respondents did not buy fast food
from either company.
Generally, fast-food purchases took place as impulse decisions (57 per cent), with
only 26 per cent visiting fast-food outlets routinely. Meal size purchases were
predominantly generous, with only 18 per cent buying a regular sized meal, leaving
BFJ 41 per cent, 16 per cent and 7 per cent buying a medium, large and super-size meal
107,4 portion. A total of 61 per cent of respondents stated that they intended to buy only
healthy foods, yet 22 per cent of these felt sufficiently under pressure at the point of
purchase for them to increase the size of the product/meal ordered. Health concerns
were expressed mainly regarding the fat content (64 per cent), calories (58 per cent) and
sugar (53 per cent) content of fast-food meals. Motivations for purchasing fast foods
218 were predominantly speed and convenience (77 per cent), flavour (64 per cent), value
for money (61 per cent), and quality of ingredients used (61 per cent). With value for
money and quality identified as clear motivators for a typically “low earning” target
market, it is no surprise that 73 per cent used fast-food outlets as a cheaper option for
eating out.
Awareness of McDonald’s CSR initiatives (i.e. sport, environment, charity) was
consistently higher than for KFC. Similarly, respondents’ awareness of each company’s
promotion of its food quality, animal welfare and healthy eating initiatives were higher
for McDonald’s than KFC (i.e. 55 per cent, 10 per cent and 48 per cent compared to
KFC’s 34 per cent, 8 per cent and 31 per cent). Respondents expected fast-food
companies to be involved in healthy eating initiatives (82 per cent), animal welfare (73
per cent) and community activities (69 per cent). There was a strong positive
correlation between respondents who intended to buy healthy foods in the future and
who expected fast-food companies to commit to healthy eating initiatives.
Simultaneously, 44 per cent of respondents believed both McDonald’s and KFC’s
new Healthy Eating menu offerings as a fad. Regarding fast-food companies’
promotion of their commitment to animal welfare, 80 per cent and 81 per cent
respectively had no knowledge of McDonald’s or KFC’s campaign. A third of
respondents later explained that thinking about animal welfare put them off eating
meat. As for both companies’ campaigns to communicate the quality of their products,
only 18 per cent of respondents believed McDonald’s burgers were made from 100 per
cent beef, and only 15 per cent believed that KFC used only premium chicken pieces.
Although 73 per cent expected information to be made publicly available, only 17 per
cent and 11 per cent used McDonald’s and KFC’s web sites, respectively, to obtain
company and nutritional information. A major reason for the limited consultation of
both companies’ web site nutritional calculators is that 35 per cent of respondents
found dietary information difficult to understand.
Exploratory factor analysis enabled a large number of variables (i.e. attitude
statements) to be represented as a smaller number of dimensions (e.g. central attitudes).
The results produced four factors explaining 52 per cent of the variance in fast-food
purchase behaviour. These were labelled in accordance with the attitudes revealed
within each:
(1) Brand value (F1).
(2) Nutritional value (F2).
(3) Ethical value (F3).
(4) Food quality (F4).
The relationship between all four factors is as follows. Factor 1 included significant
attitudes relating to the integrated brand communications directed at each fast food
company’s target audience. Examples include marketing communications and
subsequent positioning strategies such as “Fast food companies must communicate
more with the general public” and “Fast food companies offer good value for money”. Fast foods:
Together, these items suggest that Factor 1 might be named “brand value”. Factor 2 McDonald’s and
included significant attitudes relating to the healthiness of a food, for example “Fast
food companies encourage you to eat more than you need” and “KFC/McDonald’s
products are unhealthy”. Together, these items suggest that Factor 2 might be named
“nutritional value”. Factor 3’s attitudes related to food ethics, for example “KFC or
McDonald’s cannot be blamed for rising obesity rates in the UK” and “Animal welfare 219
refers mainly to chicken production”. Therefore, this factor was titled “ethical value”.
Factor 4’s attitudes related to aspects of food quality (e.g. ingredients,
country-of-origin, eating quality) and included attitudes such as “I always try to buy
meat that originates from the UK” and “Animal welfare assurances are a good
indicator of good meat quality” (Table I).

Factor Factor Factor Factor

Attitudes 1 2 3 4

1 Brand value
Fast food companies should have a larger organic
range 0.625 0.74 0.271 0.243
Leaflets describing fat content of meals should be
available in all fast-food outlets 0.564 0.360 0.360 0.299
Fast food companies offer good value for money 0.661 0.129 0.053 0.076
Fast food companies must communicate more with
the general public 0.435 0.377 0.351 0.270
I prefer to read food information to getting it from the
TV 0.449 0.344 0.445 2 0.035
I am interested to see behind the scenes (e.g.
kitchens, equipment) in fast-food restaurants 0.694 0.185 0.120 0.044
2 Nutritional value
KFC products are unhealthy 0.062 0.766 0.097 0.188
McDonalds products are unhealthy 0.319 0.652 0.266 0.199
Fast food companies encourage you to eat more than
you need 0.254 0.760 0.125 0.032
Only quality ingredients are used to manufacture
fast-food products 2 0.027 0.541 0.262 0.434
3 Ethical value
It is acceptable to keep chickens in a battery cage 0.189 0.321 0.498 0.197
McDonalds cannot be blamed for rising rates of
obesity in the UK 0.170 0.159 0.646 0.254
KFC cannot be blamed for rising rates of obesity in
the UK 0.234 0.058 0.688 0.096
Animal welfare refers mainly to chicken production 0.067 0.199 0.553 0.068
4 Food quality
Fast food products should have a GM free label 0.278 2 0.018 0.200 0.659
I always try to buy meat that originates from the UK 0.381 0.185 0.211 0.436
I now visit fast-food outlets more as a result of their
healthy eating promotions 0.361 0.425 0.145 0.477
Animal welfare assurances are a good indicator of Table I.
meat quality 0.338 0.044 2 0.312 0.530 Factors derived from
Cheap meat results in worse conditions for animals 2 0.107 0.182 0.151 0.712 attitudes
BFJ Alpha values were also calculated for the four factors to measure the degree of
107,4 cohesion within each category. In terms of internal reliability, the results showed clear
coherence within each category with F1 possessing an alpha value of 0.80 (six items);
F2 – a ¼ 0.76 (four items); F3 – a ¼ 0.71 (four items); and F4 – a ¼ 0.74 (six items).
These alpha values are more than sufficient as the widely accepted cut-off point is
confirmed as 0.70 (Bryman and Cramer, 2001). All four factors indicate the central
220 attitudes responsible for influencing fast-food purchase behaviour. Overall, the four
principal attitudes offer a logical combination and acceptable fit with regard to
consumer perceptions of fast-food companies and their CSR activities. This
exploratory process permits informal inferences to be made from consumers’ salient
attitudes towards fast-food purchase behaviour (see Bryman and Cramer, 2001).

Explanatory factor analysis pinpointed both positive and negative attitudes towards
fast-food retailers and their CSR regimes. The principal attitudes held by the fast-food
target group members related to both McDonald’s and KFC: perceived value of the
brand itself; the nutritional value of the food served; the ethical principles
underpinning the food products (e.g. health, animal production etc.); and the overall
quality of the food products sold.
Regarding brand value perceptions, most purchases occurred as a result of impulse
decision-making. Consequently, subjects were more likely to be tempted into
over-consumption at the point of purchase. It is the impulse element that may explain
why consumers patronize food companies whose marketing communications they do
not really trust – on reflection. It is not uncommon in fact for attitude-behaviour
attitudes to occur, particularly in relation to ethical purchase actions. For example, in
the context of animal welfare friendly food production systems, individuals can hold
two distinctive, and not necessarily compatible, views; on the one hand they may think
as citizens influencing societal standards, and on the other, as consumers at the point of
purchase (Schröder and McEachern, 2004). It is worth speculating, given the
prominence of convenience among the different types of consumer value in fast food
that such behavioural inconsistencies are especially likely in this particular context.
The complexity of consumer value that can be realised through a food product by
an individual consumer in a given context is enormous. In addition, the issue of
communicating specific product and/or brand benefits along distribution channels is
intrinsically difficult. Salient types of value (safety, nutrition, sensory quality, ethics,
etc.) represented by food, need to be recognised and understood before they can be
communicated. Consumer value inherent in fast foods tends to include convenience,
cheapness, consistency and reliability, the character of a filling snack or meal and a
fun-context. The present results show that the value offering of fast-food companies
must be integrated, with particular emphasis on convenience, reasonable prices and
quality products. High-grade and/or healthy ingredients, together with process-related
types of added-value, such as organic or animal welfare friendly production, come at a
price, and although expected by fast-food consumers, it is not clear that they are
willing to pay extra for them. Of the respondents, 36 per cent were customers either of
McDonald’s and/or KFC. This was despite an expressed interest in healthy eating and
the fact that the food in question is not considered as being of high nutritional value.
Both the focus group discussions and the questionnaire results reaffirmed this widely Fast foods:
held view. McDonald’s and
Ethical attributes in a fast foods context may be seen as “implied” quality attributes
(see International Standards Organization, 2000), where consumers assume a minimum KFC
acceptable (statutory) standard present in all commercially available foods
(McEachern and Schröder, 2002). This is particularly apparent in relation to animal
welfare, details of which consumers generally do not want to think about at the point of 221
purchase. As the market for ethical consumption expands, companies need to
continually monitor the strategic role of corporate ethics in their respective sectors. If
current trends continue (as noted earlier by Baltas, 2001; Bredahl et al., 1998), consumer
expectations of food ethics-related standards may increase and possibly become
mainstream, in which case fast-food retailers will be increasingly affected. Most
respondents favoured an involvement of global fast-food companies in CSR, whether in
the context of providing healthy choices, assuring animal welfare or the sponsoring of
community activities. Some perceived a sales culture that promoted over-consumption
by encouraging customers to upsize portions, and this produced dissonance when set
against CSR initiatives. However, some members of the focus groups took the
commercial point of view, namely that customers should expect to be actively sold to
and that it was up to them to make the correct choice. Explanatory factor analysis
pinpointed both positive and negative attitudes towards fast-food retailers and their
CSR initiatives. There was general support for such activities. At the same time, there
was a certain lack of trust, e.g. in companies talking honestly about the products. This
is clearly an issue that organizations subscribing to CSR have to address and resolve
(see for example, Bacon’s (2004) comments).

Conclusions, limitations and avenues for future research

McDonald’s and KFC have been leading global brands for over three decades (Keynote,
2003), but the underlying values of their target audience have changed. No longer can
either company rely solely on convenience and product consistency as unique selling
points. It is clear that a strong corporate emphasis on consumer health, quality and
socially responsible initiatives must be incorporated. New advertising campaigns or
new product lines alone are not sufficient to communicate changing brand values. If
fast-food retailers such as McDonald’s and KFC wish to maintain and attract new
customers, the overall brand value must be re-defined.
The ever-increasing market power of global fast-food retailers, and their high
visibility through branding, has made them a target both for governmental public
interest campaigns (e.g. the Food Standards Agency’s promotion of healthy eating),
and for citizens’ and consumer lobby groups (e.g. the Consumers Association).
Inevitably, CSR initiatives have become a valuable strategy for responding to, or
counteracting, challenges of this nature. If pursued proactively rather than reactively,
CSR can also be utilized to segment markets and position products profitably. Brand
value needs to be protected, and this is achieved more readily if company quality policy
and strategy are aligned with the values of both employees and customers. As the
concept of “food quality” becomes increasingly complex (i.e. as a result of a rising
number of important credence attributes), each product manager and market sector
needs to be fully aware of the types of consumer value represented. Contrary to
prevailing opinions, food can be convenient, healthy and fun at the same time, but
BFJ (suggested) consumption contexts (portion size, routine or one-off consumption) may
107,4 be highly relevant. It is crucial that fast-food retailers communicate the essence of their
brand values clearly, effectively and honestly throughout the value chain and,
ultimately, to attract key target consumers. In the case of many large corporations, CSR
initiatives are initially put in place as a result of short-term considerations about
product/company positioning or risk management (Department of Trade and Industry,
222 2002) and are therefore extrinsically motivated at that stage. CSR will work more
effectively if the underlying philosophies have been internalized through cultural
learning and change, which is not purely market focussed, but also concerns itself with
the nature and attitudes of employees (see Bacon, 2004). By building and developing
brand goodwill, genuine CSR may also serve as an insurance policy for brand value if
things should ever go wrong.
Since the sample in this study was mainly composed of consumers based from one
area of Scotland and one in England, the generalizations of the findings should be
approached with some caution. The same research should be conducted with
consumers from other parts of the UK to verify if the results can be generalised.
Additionally, as the above research findings were identified using only descriptive and
correlation techniques, they are considered slightly limited in that they only facilitate
examination of a single relationship at a time, while structural equation modelling
(SEM), has the capacity to examine a series of dependence relationships
simultaneously. Therefore, future research within this area may benefit from the
adoption of structural equation modelling techniques to facilitate confirmation of
causal influences on fast-food purchase behaviour. Future studies could also
incorporate a wider comparison of other brand names (e.g. Burger King, Wimpy), or
other fast-food sectors such as sandwich retailers (e.g. Subway).

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